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MEd/EdD Educational Leadership Program

Part of the Intervention Services & Leadership Education (ISLE) department in the College of Applied Studies

Choosing good keywords

When you use an electronic database to search for articles on your topic, it is important to do some brainstorming for good keywords that describe your topic.  Start with the keywords that first come to mind, and then add synonyms or related keywords to broaden your search and increase relevant results.

Because the database search engine is only looking for the appearance of your keyword in the title, summary (abstract) and added notes of each article in the database, it's important to think of the variety of words that might describe your topic. 


For example, what if you were doing research on racism in education? You would certainly want to include the word racism in your search. But are there other words that are related or similar that you might also want to use? How about some of these?

discrimination civil rights
race relations prejudice
inequality segregation
racial attitudes racial bias


When you type your keyword search into the database searchbox, enclose all the synonyms you want to use in parentheses, and type the word or between each word. For example: (racism or prejudice or discrimination). Now the computer will look for the appearance of any or all of those words, giving you more chances to find relevant information!

Tools to help you think of related keywords

thesaurus is a great place to look for synonyms and related words!

A graphical dictionary and thesaurus in one! "Enter words into the search box to look them up or double-click a node to expand the tree. Click and drag the background to pan around and use the mouse wheel to zoom. Hover over nodes to see the definition and click and drag individual nodes to move them around to help clarify connections."

Graph Words: Online Thesaurus
A tool similar to Visuwords above.

Help from the databases

Additional keywords (sometimes called descriptors or subject words) are almost always added to the description of each article in a database. This is a great place to scan for more keywords to use. The example below from the Education Full Text database offers a wealth of ideas. Look at the bolded words listed under Subjects.

  • By: Rothstein, RichardEducational Leadership, May2013, Vol. 70 Issue 8, p50-55, 6p
    Racism in education; Socioeconomically disadvantaged students; Students -- Economic conditions; De facto school segregation; Diversity in education; Segregation in education -- United States; Minorities -- Education -- United States
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